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Ancient Greek Theatre. Essay

3043 words - 12 pages

The origins of dramaTWENTY-FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AGO, two thousand years before Shakespeare, Western theatre was born in Athens, Greece. Between 600 and 200 BC, the ancient Athenians created a theatre culture whose form, technique and terminology have lasted two millenia, and they created plays that are still considered among the greatest works in theatre. Their achievement is truly remarkable when one considers that there have been only two other periods in theatre history which approached the greatness of ancient Athens -- Elizabethan England and the Twentieth Century. The great playwright of Elizabethan England was Shakespeare, but Athens produced at least five great playwrights. The Twentieth Century produced thousands of fine plays and films, but their form and often their content were based on the innovations of the ancient Athenians.The Cult of DionysusThe theatre of Ancient Greece evolved from religious rites which date back to at least 1200 BC. At that time Greece was populated by primitive tribes. In northern Greece, in an area called Thrace, a cult arose that worshipped Dionysus, the god of human and agricultural fertility. The Cult of Dionysus practiced ritual celebrations which included intoxication, orgies, human and animal sacrifices, and hysterical rampages by women called maenads.The cult's most controversial practice involved uninhibited dancing and emotional displays that created an altered mental state. This altered state was known as ecstasis, from which the word ecstasy is derived. Dionysiac, hysteria and catharsis also derive from Greek words for emotional release. Ecstasy was an important concept to the Greeks, who would come to see theatre as a way of releasing powerful emotions.Though it met with resistance, the cult spread south through the tribes of Greece over the ensuing six centuries. During this time the rites of Dionysus became mainstream and more civilized. By 600 BC they were practiced every Spring throughout much of Greece.The DithyrambA key part of the rites of Dionysus was the dithyramb. The dithyramb was an ode to Dionysus. It was usually performed by a chorus of fifty men dressed as satyrs -- mythological half-human, half-goat servants of Dionysus. They played drums, lyres and flutes, and chanted as they danced around an effigy of Dionysus. Some accounts say they also wore phallus-like headgear. Although it began as a purely religious ceremony, like a hymn in the middle of a mass, over time the dithyramb would evolve into stories, drama and the play form.The Golden Age of Greek TheatreBy 600 BC Greece was divided into city-states, separate nations centered around major cities and regions. The most prominent city-state was Athens, where at least 150,000 people lived. It was here that the Rites of Dionysus evolved into what we know today as theatre. Since Athens was located in a region called Attica, Greek and Athenian theatre are sometimes referred to as Attic Theatre.ThespisIn 600 BC, Arion of Mehtymna wrote...

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